Two years ago, we were fortunate to be treated to a stay at the Disney Aulani, a spectacular family-focused resort on western coast of Oahu, in the town of Ko’Olina. Since then, Aron’s family have become timeshare owners and so this summer we were once again invited to join Aron’s parents, along with his sister and her family visiting from Germany, for a few nights at the end of our vacation on the island!
I wrote extensively about that first visit in a Travelogue, and so I won’t repeat first impressions here. But I’ve gotten a lot of questions about our stay and I’d say, if you have the chance to go, take it! We appreciated the Aulani even more this time with both of our children being an age to take advantage of all the kids’ programs and opportunities.
Here are some highlights…
We drove past at first, checking out Makaha beach just up the coast—beautiful! shown above—but Hudson and Skyler could hardly wait to get to the hotel and meet up with their older cousins. In comparing our two visits, I found I preferred ending at the Aulani over beginning there, and would definitely recommend that order if you’re given the choice. The Aulani is the kind of place you’re meant to settle into and make full use of its many amenities. I think it can be harder to appreciate that if you’ve just arrived and are itching to soak in some Hawaiian adventure. For our part, we’d had our coastline drives and roadside shrimp truck experiences, we’d gotten to do lots of snorkeling and tasted a range of açai bowls. We were ready to relax and let the kids enjoy the pool!
The set-up is massive: There’s a large zero-entry pool that wraps around close to the beach (that everyone but Skyler could easily stand in throughout), two water-slides (one for inner tubes and one all-in-the-dark drop), a lazy river, a splash-zone play structure with slides and water features (for those 48″ and under only), a warmer “grotto” (the infinity pool), a few adults-only spots, and a water-fountain play area perfect for babies. Thankfully, there are lifeguards stationed all over for peace of mind. We let Hudson go down to the pool with his older cousins without us for the first time.
There’s also a man-made, additional-fee snorkeling pool called the Rainbow Reef, that we used frequently last time as a primer Hudson’s water skills. It’s kept at a chilly 77-degrees, however, so the kids only wanted to go once on this trip.
There were things that distinguished the property as part of the Disney resort (the personable staff—or “cast-members”—definitely among them), but in general they were subtle: characters were occasionally passing by on their way to a meet-and-greet, but you actually had to seek them out if you wanted to be near them.
We did just that on our first morning together: the entire family met for a character breakfast. Seatings are spaced apart to include time for everyone to first take a photo with Mickey Mouse before going into a buffet breakfast, throughout which characters come over to visit and children are invited to participate in song and dance routines. If you don’t need the initial photo-op with Mickey, you might see if you can bypass that part as the line moves slowly. Skyler, at least, much preferred saying hello to Minnie Mouse at the table—running over to show Minnie that they were both wearing dresses! It was remarkable as she was otherwise too shy to say hello to the others.
After breakfast, the cousins departed for the day (you can use an on-site car rental service) and we played at the pool, joining in “pool parties” and trying out the slides, until it came time for the kids to go to Aunty’s beach house.
Probably one of the most talked about features of the Aulani is the kids’ club, Aunty’s Beach House. Kids aged 3-12 can be dropped off without an adult for registered activities. (I say registered because you do have to sign up for drop-off activities in advance. You should do this at the time you make your room reservation, along with making any dining reservations at the hotel.) Last time we visited, Skyler was too young and could only visit between 8 and 9:30am each morning with a parent along—which is why I would suggest you try and wait to go to the Aulani until your kids are 3. It was pretty exciting that they could both go this time!
Some of the programs at Aunty’s are included, others require a premium reservation (extra fee). We tried both this time. On the first day, we brought the kids to the Space Goo activity and they had such a great time they didn’t want to leave. We asked if they could they longer and the staff said we could pick them up anytime—up until 9pm. We bought them a lunch that would be served there and they stayed an extra two hours!
We were a little giddy about it as we walked next door to the Four Seasons for lunch by ourselves.
We found a path to a practically secluded beach and did the same thing again the following day, when the kids did a fish-feeding program at the Rainbow Reef—only this time with some shore snorkeling as well!
We also took the opportunity to check out the adult-only pools—which were always less crowded.
In addition to Aunty’s Beach House, the kids engaged in scavenger hunts you can do with checked-out ipads, and listened to a nightly storyteller session—this one featured Moana!
Other top activities for kids (that we didn’t try) are beach games, movie nights, stargazing (with an astronomer), and a “Starlit Hui” luau on the lawn. There are also activities for adults: fitness classes, ukulele lessons, weaving, and more. We could see some of the luau from our room, and it’s definitely something I think the kids would have loved to see.
The hotel is quite large, and the crowds can be disorienting, so we brought along walkie-talkies in hopes it would help the kids meet up. They were quite entertaining—particularly for Hudson—but they didn’t completely solve the problem of how to meet up if you get separated when you’re swimming. You definitely need to make contingency plans!
For dinners on two of the nights, we walked across the street: first to Monkeypod (my favorite of the dining options nearby), and second to Roy’s on the golf course.
There’s also an ABC convenience store and some other shops across the way where the narrow-gauge train still runs on weekends.
On our last night, we stayed at the hotel and ate at ‘Ama’Ama—the more upscale beachside restaurant on the property—and wished everyone a good night. From there, the others traveled onto the Big Island and we soaked up our last hours at the pool before our flight back home.
It was a wonderful end to our week on this beautiful island!
Have you been? What did I miss?
Also: More Hawaii travelogues